Tag Archives: Gorbachev

Gorbachev

Collapse of communism in eastern Europe

This is the final revision episode (for now!) in the series examining the Cold War for GCSE and IGCSE students.  Focusing on the collapse of communism in eastern Europe it assesses the effect of the Solidarity movement in Poland, and the role of Gorbachev, in bringing about the end of Soviet dominance in the region.  The second part of the podcast goes on to explore the specific experiences of major eastern European countries in the lat 1980s and early 1990s.

The podcast begins with Poland, where massive popular opposition to the government led to the establishment of the Solidarity trade union in the Gdansk shipyards.  The rise of Solidarity is described, along with the subsequent government clampdown under the government of Jaruzelski.  The impact of Solidarity is considered.

The second section looks at the USSR under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev.  His two key policies of perestroika and glasnost are explained, and their impact of Soviet foreign policy is assessed.

In the final section of the podcast, I describe the process through which the states of eastern Europe freed themselves from communist rule.  The most popular exam questions on the collapse of communism focus on asking WHY a certain event contributed to the end of the system, or ask to what extent a particular event was responsible.  Remember that to answer any of these questions you need to support your reason with solid evidence, and explain exactly WHY it contributed to the collapse of communism.

     

Eastern Europe 1949-89

Losing Soviet control over eastern Europe

These three videos present the events that led to the end of communism in the Eastern Bloc.

PART 1 – Gorbachev, the attitude of Honecker, Hungary 1989, Poland 1989, Warsaw Pact Summit 1989, the economic and political situation in East Germany, the crossing of East Germans through Hungary

PART 2 – East Germany’s 40th anniversay demonstration, fall of Honecker, fall of the Berlin Wall, the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia

PART 3 – Uprising in Romania leading to the end of Ceausescu

Gorbachev and Reagan

The relationship between the USA and the USSR in the 1980s

Gorbachev’s involvement in nuclear disarmament negotiations between the Soviet Union and the USA.  The USA’s plans to develop ‘Star Wars’ and the collapse of talks at the Reykjavik in 1986.  From Curriculum Bites.

Glasnost Perestroika

Glasnost and Perestroika

The differences between the two terms ‘Glasnost’ and ‘Perestroika’ and the effects of these policies, from Curriculum Bites.

Tear down this wall!

‘Tear down this wall!’ – the story behind Reagan’s message to Gorbachev

On 12 June 1987, US President Ronald Reagan made a speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin in which he called on the USSR’s leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, to ‘Tear down this wall!’

Reagan was in Berlin to celebrate the city’s 750th anniversary, and was scheduled to make a speech in front of 20,000 people to mark the occasion. His presence in the city was not universally popular, however, and there are reports of up to 50,000 people taking to the streets the previous day in anti-Reagan protests.

Tensions were also running high in the American President’s administration. There was considerable disagreement over whether the phrase ‘tear down this wall’ should even be included in the speech. The National Security Council and the State Department were particularly concerned that such a direct challenge to the Soviet Union would increase tensions between the two countries, and could damage the positive relationship that Reagan had begun to forge with Gorbachev. The President’s deputy chief of staff, Kenneth Duberstein, later reported that Reagan said he would include the phrase because ‘it’s the right thing to do.’

The President began his speech at 2pm, protected by two panes of bulletproof glass that were erected to shield him from potential East German snipers. TASS, the Soviet press agency, remarked that the speech was ‘openly provocative…war-mongering.’

Despite the highly emotive atmosphere in front of the Brandenburg Gate on the day, Time magazine later claimed that the speech received ‘relatively little coverage from the media.’ Even John Kornblum, a senior US diplomat who was based in Berlin at the time, stated on the twentieth anniversary of the speech that it ‘wasn’t really elevated to its current status until 1989, after the wall came down.’

Fascinating story of the pilot who landed a private plane near Red Square in 1987

On the 28th May 1987, an eighteen year-old amateur pilot from Hamburg in West Germany illegally landed a private aircraft near Moscow’s Red Square. Mathias Rust had clocked up only 50 hours of flying time before commencing his journey that took in the Shetland and Faroe Islands, Iceland, Bergen and Helsinki before flying to Moscow.

Rust’s flight was risky.  Just five years earlier a South Korean commercial plane had been shot down after it strayed into Soviet airspace.  Rust himself was tracked by three separate surface-to-air missile units and a total of four fighter planes were sent to monitor him, but none of them were given permission to attack.

Rust approached Moscow in the early evening, and after passing the “Ring of Steel” anti-aircraft defences continued towards the city centre.  Abandoning his idea of landing in the Kremlin, he instead touched down on a bridge next to St Basil’s Cathedral and taxied into Red Square.  Within two hours he had been arrested.  He was sentenced to four years in a labour camp for violating international flight rules and illegally entering the Soviet Union, but was released after serving 14 months in jail.

In a 2007 interview, Rust claimed that he hoped his flight would build an ‘imaginary bridge’ between east and west. What it actually did was massively damage the reputation of the Soviet military for failing to stop him. This in turn led to the largest dismissal of Soviet military personnel since Stalin’s purges, and allowed Gorbachev to push ahead with his reforms.

The Berlin Wall and the fall of East German communism

An explanation of the dramatic fall of the Berlin wall in November 1989.  From Curriculum Bites.

First McDonald's in the USSR

The first McDonald’s in the USSR opened in 1990

On the 31st January 1990, fast food chain McDonald’s opened its first restaurant in the Soviet Union on Moscow’s Pushkin Square. Rather than the expected 1,000 customers on the first day, some news outlets estimated that 30,000 people passed through the doors. Even Boris Yeltsin visited the store on the opening day.

By 1990 the Iron Curtain was in tatters. The Berlin Wall – the very symbol of the East-West divide – had fallen in November the previous year, and the communist governments of other eastern European countries had fallen. McDonald’s had already opened restaurants in Belgrade, the capital of the former Yugoslavia, and the Hungarian capital Budapest in 1988. However, the expansion into the Soviet Union was evidence of the enormous changes taking place within the USSR itself. Glasnost and perestroika had already brought about enormous changes, and the Soviet government even owned a 51% stake in the new McDonald’s venture.

Interestingly, however, McDonald’s in the USSR was developed by the Canadian branch of the company, independent of the chain’s American headquarters. To keep the supply chain separate, completely separate farms and factories were developed to provide the ingredients: by the end of 1989 a reported 50 million Canadian dollars had been invested in the infrastructure.

At the time, the average monthly wage for a Russian worker was 150 roubles. When McDonald’s opened, a standard hamburger cost 1.50 roubles – the price of ten loaves of bread. Despite this, thousands of people walked through the doors of what remained the largest McDonald’s restaurant in the world until a new restaurant on the London 2012 Olympic Park opened 22 years later.

Dissolution of the USSR

The collapse of the Soviet Union

These two videos detail the events following Gorbachev coming to power in the USSR, and the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union.

The first clip opens with an overview of the USSR’s political, economic and social situation in the 1980s. In response, Gorbachev introduced the policies of perestroika and glasnost.  The impact of new technology including satellite television and extensive telephone networks is examined in terms of its impact on the Soviet Union.  The rest of the video looks at the discussions that took place between the USSR and the USA’s President Reagan with regards the nuclear arms race and, more importantly, the issue of disarmament.

The second video begins with an explanation of why total independence for the Soviet States was unacceptable to the leadership. The power struggle between Yeltsin and Gorbachev is then presented, along with details of the coup that led to Gorbachev’s house arrest and subsequent release thanks to Yeltsin. The clip ends with the Slav states decalaring independence from the USSR, followed by an illuminating interview with President Bush who received Gorbachev’s final phone call as General Secretary of the Soviet Union on Christmas Day, 1991.

Gorbachev

The fall of Gorbachev

Boris Yeltsin’s creation of the Commonwealth of International States that led to the end of Mikhail Gorbachev’s rule of the USSR.  From Curriculum Bites.